Ryan: Anchor


Faith does not come naturally to me. Doubting musicians have an uneasy partnership with music born out of religious resonance. We are asked about it all the time (“How can you listen to Symphony no. X or Whoozit’s Requiem and not feel God’s presence?!”), with the faint implication that we are somehow blind to the non-musical divine beauties of the world. And while we know this is a silly argument, I have found a find a shade of guilt unavoidable. Is my rapture at Bach’s St. Matthew Passion somehow not an experience of everything a Christian (Bach himself!) would wish for me to experience? Am I living in denial? Lately, though, something has shifted. I’ve been able to push aside my oblique guilt and come to recognize the sublime opportunity this music provides: to actually participate (for the duration, at least) in the experience of having faith.

This movement from Brahms’ German Requiem isn’t even my favorite in the work, though it does take me by surprise more often than the others. A funereal baritone mourns our lack of understanding and seeks for answers (which eludes Brahms the more he searches, leaving us clutching at air). But the wild, final few minutes paint an entire universe of possible experiences, positive and negative, density and intensity heightened with each passing bar – all anchored by an immense, sonar-like D natural that underlines every note, traveling like a light on the engine of an unstoppable train (actually, the D is at once both fully in motion and implacably still, as only music can be). We hear both the infinite variety of experience and the resolute present-ness of God, and we sense the natural laws that bind them together. The God-knowledge we seek is within us, a trusting in ourselves and in our body’s intuition, and it moves us beyond morality. It is the Immovable Spot the Buddha claimed for himself.